When I first heard the term “digital content curation” I thought of Picasso-peddling online arts merchants, vernissages on Facebook and high heeled iPhone users staggering through Italian designer boutiques.

But what does it really mean?

Traditionally, the term curator refereed to a person who selects, manages and collects works of art or (cultural artifacts of any kind) in a museum, art gallery, library, etc.

Digital content curation seemed to be the buzzword of 2011. A digital content curator does more or less the same things as his analog equivalent, except he deals with digital works of art, bits of information, etc.

Where The Academic And The Layman Intersect

There seem to be two ends of the spectrum here. In its best sense, digital content curation could refer to gargantuan projects like archive.org which collects, files and stores all kinds of digital content for future generations, from old movies and advertising clips and newsreels to student films and much more. A lot of this content is in the public domain and can be used in all kinds of projects. When I was hosting a little experimental TV program with friends, for example, we relied heavily on the Prelinger archive for its infinite reels of footage.

But this complex archiving and building of digital libraries is only one example of digital content curation.

On the other side of the spectrum we have (micro)blogging such as Twitter and Tumblr and services like paper.li or scoop.it!, or even Facebook, all of whose users are participating in digital content curation, whether directly by posting and summarizing, or by reblogging, retweeting and sharing.

The idea here is that we’re drowning in an ocean of information and we desperately need people who select, store and manage these mind-boggling amounts of data so that we can consume them more easily.

Many of the people I follow on Twitter are great curators of obscure and/or unique finds. Together with Reddit and Instapaper they have long replaced the daily newspaper for me (not that I ever liked the huge flapping paper thing) and with their help I find articles, videos and news I could never find by consuming a prepackaged magazine or newspaper alone.

On the other hand, I’ve dabbled a bit with content curation myself, both on my personal Twitter account and on our Learn Out Live Tumblr and my experience with it was and still is … ambivalent.

Content Curation As Ersatz-Creativity

There seems to be a growing notion that in an age of informational abundance curating content equals creating content. And while I do see the importance, necessity and benefits of having people sift through the daily torrents of bits and bytes to order, summarize and distribute materials, there’s also a growing sense of wariness, at least on my part.

There’s just so much content out there that I could spend my whole day just sifting through Tumblrs, twitter accounts, blogs and RSS feeds, selecting the interesting bits, grouping, tagging, and redistributing my finds.

And what I’ve found is that it generates a very different experience than actually creating content. It feels like moving horizontally through an endless expanse of stuff, sighting content from an objective bird’s-eye view of the mind, horizons forever receding. It feels rather impersonal and detached, in other words and couldn’t be further from the intensely personal and psychological adventure of creating things on my own. Even the most mediocre drawing or short story I can produce is still more meaningful to me than the most awesome regurgitated content. And if I didn’t organize my day in a way that encourages creative activity, I would soon drown in an ocean of curation.

In an age of Social Media we’ve all become content curators. Everyone who posts a Bob Dylan video on Facebook, who puts an “inspirational” poster on Pinterest, who reblogs vintage movie clips on Tumblr, tweets Marylin Monroe quotes, we’re all sifting endlessly through a neverending flow of information, constantly rehashing past centuries, infinitely reiterating, like pressing repeat on the record-player of human history.

But does it really replace creating works of our own, finding a voice and learning to “speak” with paintings, music and words?

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